Don Tillapaugh

Don Tillapaugh

Sturgeon market growing in B.C.

NANAIMO – Vancouver Island University's aquaculture program supplies commercial farms.

There is a potential for a sturgeon market in B.C., according to the director of Vancouver Island University’s International Centre for Sturgeon Studies.

The fish is valued for its meat and eggs, which are used for caviar, and according to director Don Tillapaugh, there is demand but not enough production.

“We believe the market’s very strong for sturgeon,” said Tillapaugh. “The price is high currently, it’s just at the beginnings of market development, so the price would normally be high when it’s a unique product, but like the development of any new industry, the prices start high and then they come down as production quantities grow.”

Tillapaugh said the university has accumulated about eight breeding fish over the past 25 years and has learned how to spawn them and rear babies.

In the past, the centre has sold babies to the Sunshine Coast’s Target Marine Hatcheries, which Tillapaugh said has developed a viable sturgeon aquaculture business. The hatchery sells meat to high-end restaurants and produces award-winning caviar.

More recently, the university has provided the baby fish to local company Taste of B.C. Aquafarms, which is also growing sturgeon and there are other companies considering getting into sturgeon aquaculture, according to Tillapaugh.

“Our role, we think, is to be the source of the baby fish for other farmers to grow to food production and maybe for caviar as well,” said Tillapaugh. “We’re just, I call it, a hatchery for sturgeon.”

Sturgeon are considered a species at risk in B.C., with the exception of the lower Fraser River population, and in Tillpaugh’s opinion, farming fish is the way to go given that the wild fish industry is at its maximum sustainable limit.

“Food and agricultural organizations have shown in many studies that we can’t harvest any more out of the ocean, but our population in the world is growing, so we need to produce more protein by aquaculture in order to feed the world, so how are we going to to do that is the question.

“Sturgeon, because of its meat qualities and there is a market demand for it, and we’re figuring out that you can grow it in aquaculture conditions fairly successfully, so we think it’s a huge opportunity for B.C. to grow a sturgeon industry,” he said.